(The Center Square) – The backlog of immigration cases is growing as U.S. lawmakers evaluate plans to address the problem.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which handles immigration cases, has 69 immigration courts, 597 courtrooms and 659 immigration judges throughout the U.S. It faced a backlog of nearly 2.2 million pending cases as of July, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That’s more than four times the number of pending cases at the start of fiscal year 2017.
“It’s clear that our immigration court system is in desperate need of reform,” U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said at the outset of a subcommittee hearing on the issue Wednesday. “Addressing challenges at our southern border, of course, has to be part of that solution, but it is not the whole solution.”
Sending additional resources to U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement without providing additional funding for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which handles immigration cases, will only increase the backlog, Padilla said.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said only so much can be done with President Joe Biden in charge of the nation’s immigration policies.
“The courts can only do so much when the Biden administration has opened the spigot at the border,” he said.
More than 255,000 foreign nationals were apprehended or reported evading capture after crossing the southwest border into the U.S. in September alone, according to preliminary Border Patrol data obtained by The Center Square. In August, the official data showed the number at more than 322,000, the most for a single month in U.S. history.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review had a budget of $860 million in 2023. Padilla compared that with the budget for CBP and ICE, which have a combined budget of $30 billion.
Executive Office for Immigration Review officials have said resource shortages and growing caseloads have contributed to the backlog.
Even though the Executive Office for Immigration Review completed a record high number of cases (about 376,000 in the first three-quarters of fiscal year 2023, the Department of Homeland Security initiated a record high number of new cases during that time (747,000).
“As a result, the backlog increased by about 371,000 cases in the first three-quarters of fiscal year 2023,” according to the GAO report. “The effects of the case backlog are significant and wide-ranging from some respondents waiting years to have their cases heard, to immigration judges being able to spend less time considering cases.”